We were talking about anything and everything, rdeck and I, as we do all the time, and somehow we circled around to Charles Lindbergh.
"When was it exactly that he did that flight?" I asked, frowning, trying to remember my timeline of history.
rdeck opened his mouth to answer me, hesitated when he couldn't put his finger on the exact year of the occurrence in question, and then we both said, in unison,
"We'll GOOGLE it."
Now, here's the thing. That is second nature now. Search engines and the Internet and all that. You don't even think about it - research is ridiculous - whatever you want or need to know you go to your computer, you type it in, and the world is your oyster. It is probably a good thing to know enough about your target to weed out immediately the sites which have an axe to grind (and whose agenda therefore cannot be completely trusted) or the sites put up by enthusiastic amateurs who viewed the topic or person you are researching through a prism of their own private misapprehensions or particular patches of ignorance tempered only by their true and unfettered enthusiasm for the subject.
And it is entirely possible for serendipity to happen, and you wind up site-hopping from one thing to another until you wind up starting from Amsterdam and ending up at Ziggurat (by way of an accidental detour into eyewateringly Flash-packed advertising...) without quite knowing how you got there. But it is an entirely different kind of serendipity than you used to get when you did your research on paper and you flipped through ACTUAL BOOKS in order to get your information, Remember the days when a research question actually meant a trip to a physical library, with real books, with catalogs, with live reference librarians with spectacles perched on the ends of their noses in whose collective brains rested the knowledge of a species and who, if they did not immediately know the answers to your questions, at least knew instantly and precisely where to LOOK for them...)
I am, have always been, will always be, a particular kind of book geek - and alhtough I am quite at home with the cyberworld and all that it can deliver to me I have to tell you that my birthday present for my Sweet Sizteenth was... a complete set of the then-latest set of Enclyclopedia Britannica. Yes, the paper edition. It still lives here in my office, making a handsome little shelf of its own, the collected knowledge of a world between the covers of sturdy alphabetically arranged volumes, and frankly this still takes my breath away, a little. It has been a little while since I have used this extraodrinary gift in the manner in which it was intended (after all, the first thought my husband and I had when we needed to find something out was to run to Google...) but I've decided that this will be a year when I will crack open those books, and flip through their fine and fragile thin paper pages, and see what catches my eye. And here is what I will do. I am not going to commit to a rigorous schedule - but over the course of this year I will put up "once upon an encyclopedia" posts in which I will pick a volume and find a couple or three random things that catch my eye, and produce an essay post about how those things combine to intercept my world.
Once upon a time - the once and future encyclopedia. Watch this space.